My father liked to play solitaire. He didn’t play it on some device. This was before devices were invented. He used real cards. In his street-tough youth, he’d been a blackjack dealer in road houses. He liked the feel of a deck of cards in his hands.
Just watching him shuffle between games was a mesmerizing experience. He started out holding the deck in the fingers of both hands in front of him, as you might hold a harmonica. Then, in a couple of quick, but graceful, movements, he split the deck exactly in half, to the card, positioning the half-packs in front of him so that their corresponding diagonal corners opposed each other. Then, with both his thumbs against the packs, he riffled them together soundlessly, except for a low fluttering. In so doing, the corners of each pack became perfectly interleaved, card by card. At that point, he pressed both hands together, compressing the two deck-halves back together into a single pack again, like magic. The fingers of both his hands came to rest in exact position to do another shuffle.
In this way, my father would execute three or four shuffles together, one right after the other. I never got tired of watching him do that. I had no concept of all the hours he must have wasted in his youth, acquiring such a high level of manual dexterity. A shuffle, the way my father did it, was not just a shuffle—it was a perfect shuffle. Eight perfect shuffles and the cards in the deck would be returned to the same order they were in at the start.
My father’s skill at cards was not limited to shuffling. He was a master of all the secret card manipulations and sleights-of-hand known to adepts, but he never showed these moves to me, the way a magician would. They were not meant to be seen. They were moves by which the unsuspecting could be fleeced. My father said that he never used his ability to cheat anybody, except knaves and fools—in his manner of speech, bums. I often heard him say, “I never made a dollar off an honest man.”
When my parents got married, my mother made him cut out all his gambling activities. When I was growing up, all I ever saw him do was play solitaire in his spare time. He would disappear into each game, slowly laying out the cards and then remembering each one as it was played, recalculating the odds of a win in his head after each move. It kept his mind sharp.
Now, in my father’s honor, I play computer solitaire. I can do things he never dreamed of doing—like selecting the deal I want to play out of many, and undoing moves all the way back to the beginning, if I wish. These features of computer solitaire, along with the ability to keep statistics on games played, have allowed me to undertake a solitaire project in which I try to see how many wins I can rack up for a given set of games played.
Take a look at the screenshot below from my Droid X phone—after a thousand games, which took 8 months to play, my win rate is 88.2%.
My daddy would have been amazed.
Larry Blumen is an innovative author with a dryer-than-dry sense of humor. His debut book VD Man takes place in 1965, Miami, Florida, a city that has more cases of infectious syphilis than any city in America—a fact the Chamber of Commerce and the Miami Health Department conspire to cover up. Into this sticky wicket stumbles Allen Kravass, who gives up a cushy job in his father’s bank to pursue a career in syphilis eradication with the federal government. Kravass aspires to be a VD man—a sleuth for syphilis.
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